Skip to content

Welcome to Reconciliation Week – What Was the 1967 Referendum?

Image courtesy NITV

Today, May 27, marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week.

The significance of May 27 is that it is the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

On 27 May 1967, Australians voted to change the Constitution so that like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.

A resounding 90.77 per cent said ‘Yes’ and every single state and territory had a majority result for the ‘Yes’ vote.

It was one of the most successful national campaigns in Australia’s history.

While many people think that the Referendum gave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the right to vote, this wasn’t the case.

Aboriginal people could vote at the state level before Federation in 1901; Queensland and Western Australia being the only states that expressly prevented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from voting.

It wasn’t until 1962, when the electoral act was amended, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were given the right to register and vote, but voting was not compulsory.

Full voting rights were not granted federally until Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were required to register on the electoral roll in 1984.

It is sometimes mistakenly stated that the 1967 referendum overturned a Flora and Fauna Act, in which Indigenous Australians were classified as fauna by legislation.

This is not correct. A fact check conducted by ABC News in 2018 found “Aboriginal people in Australia have never been covered by a flora and fauna act, either under federal or state law.”

While the Referendum gave the federal government the power to make laws for Indigenous people, unfortunately it did not require that those laws would ensure equality and would not be discriminatory.

National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

Right here in Bairnsdale, on Gunai Kurnai country, there is an incredible resource to learn about the history and culture of the Gunai Kurnai people – the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place.

You can visit the Keeping Place Monday to Friday, 9am – 3pm, on the grounds of GEGAC’s main campus, 37-53 Dalmahoy St., Bairnsdale.

You can also call ahead to arrange a guided tour – we welcome visits from school groups, businesses and local organisations too.

Call GEGAC Main Reception on 5150 0700 and ask for the Keeping Place.

Information in this post courtesy The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and the Western Australian Museum.